July 01, 2001

Tivoli Nights

Filed under: Archive,Interstate,Theatre



A Dance Musical

by Graeme Murphy

The Australian Ballet

Sydney Dance Company

Festival Theatre

Reviewed by Murray Bramwell

The Tivoli Circuit represented a rich part of the history of Australian vaudeville and burlesque, and the two distinct spans of Tivoli entertainments – 1893 to 1929 and then 1931 to 1966 – cover more than seventy years. A fine and ranging subject, then, for inclusion in  Centenary of Federation celebrations, especially when many projects this year have proven lacklustre both in concept and presentation.

In collaboration with the Australian Ballet and Adelaide composer Graeme Koehne, Sydney Dance Company supremo, Graeme Murphy has made quite a leap with Tivoli, his dance musical – even if the mix of elements gets a little lumpy at times.

Opening with a blacklight illusion of dancing shoes, sheath dresses and  block letters of the word Tivoli, the production owes much to set designer Brian Thomson and costume wizard Kristian Fredrikson . The keyhole backstage scenes  develop the connection between the central figure Jack, danced and performed by Carl Plaisted, and Miss Evelyn Rose, (Madeleine Eastoe) spirit of the Tivoli. These sequences, and those set in the Frisco Bar, are Murphy’s attempt to turn what is essentially a variety bill into a unified musical – and I am not sure it quite succeeds.

But while the first half takes time to sort itself out, there are plenty of bright moments –  including vaudevillian Harry Haythorne reviving his roller skate tap and Chylie Cooper and Matthew Shilling ‘s romantically choreographed Rue de Paris. Tim Tyler and Tracey Carrodus work hard to make the ventriloquist comedy of Daddy and Baby Doll amount to something but Carrodus excels in the acrobatic moves of Mademoiselle Mignon et Les Chevaliers, a vignette as wacky and intriguing now as when it first graced the Tivoli bill.

Singer Linda Nagle gives us a torchy Deep in a Daydream, her own lyrics with music by bandleader,  Max Lambert. Plaisted dances solo with a giant sized Hot-Pink Glove. And mention must be made of Graeme Koehne’s music – especially in the Frisco bar – with its artful echoes of Gershwin and  thirties tin pan alley.

Murphy is not beyond the occasional arch effect – such as Madeleine Eastoe’s egregious Spirit of the Tivoli solo, and the ballet of the sad sacks. in Gloom and Glitz which steps all too lightly over the Great Depression to get to the glittery gold tap routine for the interval curtain.

Act Two opens with Fredrikson’s zany costumes for the Miss Australia contest followed by a slinky duet from Katherine Arnold-Lindley and Xue-Jun Wang and the suavely managed he/she black and white costumes of the Transformation Tango . Tim Tyler aka Professor Winston Smythe returns with his chook impersonation and a mouthful of ping pong balls, juggled with epiglottal perfection much to the delight of the crowd. More pedestrian are The Zoubreski Twins, Rachael Read and Andrea Briody as Tivoli contortionists and Josef Brown and Steven Woodgate as the not-entirely Colossal Spartacus Brothers. These are no doubt comic homage to Tivoli acts but they play like filler in the show’s format.

It is the sharply moved full troupe number,  Brown Slouch Hat, sumptuously lit by Damien Cooper and set alongside a glamorously burlesque version of a flag tableau that gets things zinging. Thomson’s set incorporates a climbing net for a combat scene and Koehne’s music captures some riffs from that Bugle Boy from Company B. Also impressive is the Gene Kelly inspired arrangement of the Victory Rag.

Less successful is  Murphy’s American Dream with its M.Butterfly subtext  and the concluding image of the variety shows dissolving into the hissing static of the giant TV screen is also a laboured attempt at substance in a show where froth and  finesse tell us more about the spirit of burlesque. Tivoli is at its best when it is more dance than musical – as in the fast and fabulous Swan Silver, an all-stops production number which leaves no mirror ball unturned.

“Tivoli Nights” The Adelaide Review, No.214, July, 2001, pp. 26-7.

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